The Skyway, Paul Bristow

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Visitors dodging afternoon thunderstorms in the Tampa Bay region found some good action at the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers this past week.  Spanish mackerel that have been among the toughest fish to pattern all season returned strong this past week and many anglers approached a limit of fish with artificial lures.  Mangrove snapper were on a strong bite and some big fish hit the concrete, but limits of mangos were not as common as last week.  Key West grunts might have made up for some of the missing mangos as plenty of anglers reported numerous fish in excess of 12″ in length.  Sharks continue to be on the feed at the piers and over the past few weeks some of the monsters have made their presence known amongst the almost omnipresent smaller fish.  Finally, crab flushes have remained solid and plenty of large shrimp have joined in the mix for the visitors who prefer to fish after sundown with a dip net & flashlight.

What can only be considered a tough year of Spanish mackerel fishing in Tampa Bay finally showed some light over the past few days.  Anglers fishing silver spoons behind a trolling sinker produced plenty of nice mackerel in the 13″ to 18″ size range.  Some groups even approached a limit of fish and were happy to have plenty of action.  A silver spoon fished with about 6 to 8 feet of monofilament or fluorocarbon leader material behind a trolling sinker is one of the most productive mackerel approaches at the Skyway Piers.  A singe hook spoon in silver finish is deadly on macks, but all spoons are not made the same.  Look for an aluminum body (instead of coated steel or tin) and a high-quality hook.  Aluminum is far superior, not only for corrosion resistance, but also for the lighter fluttering action this metal displays in the water column.  A high quality attachment from spoon to hook is also important in so check any rivets, welds or screws where the hook meets the metal on your chosen spoon.  A split-ring, snap or loop knot will help to increase the inherent erratic & wobbling action of the spoon – making it look even more like a wounded sardine trying to rejoin the safety & comfort of the school.

Mangrove snapper remain one of the top summer targets at the piers and this week produced some very nice fish in the 12″ to 18″ size range.  Any mango over 15″ in length taken from fixed structure with hazards lurking everywhere to slice through line is an accomplishment, and many big fish like this were taken over the past week.  It did seem that numbers of fish were slightly lower than last week, as many visitors took home 3 very nice fish instead of a limit of smaller fish.  Most anglers were happy with the trade-off…  Cut scaled sardines were top billing and live or freshly-frozen shrimp rolled in as a close second.  Many anglers were praising the effectiveness of 1/0 to 2/0 black nickel circle hooks as hooking more of the often-wary snapper.  You can fish circle hooks on a standard live bait style rig or knocker rig, but the key to this hook is to never ‘set’ on the fish.  Let the snapper (or other species) put a nice bend in your rod tip before you even start to reel…  Never set at all – on any nibble or even harder tugs – only when the bend is in the rod…  You just might start to take more mangos from the piers.

Key West grunts filled the bill fantastically for anglers seeking to provide for a family fish fry who did not get enough mangrove snapper this past week.  Some huge grunts in the 14″ range were reported this past week and anglers who appreciate this species could not have been happier!  Many charter boats on the Gulf Coast of Florida call these fish grey snapper and many anglers familiar with their fine culinary qualities have no problem with the misnomer…  Grunts most often inhabit the same areas as snappers – perhaps even digging deeper into the artificial reefs and moving less than lanes or mangos.  These fish have a big mouth with a bright red interior that simply loves to inhale freshly cut squid – especially when just pulled over reef pilings and hitting the bottom nearby hungry grunts.  In a snag that you just are able to pull out and then your rig hits the bottom?  Be ready for the biggest Key Wests that you will catch that day!  These fish are fantastic eating and perform well using almost every method of fishing cookery.  To avid anglers, the flesh quality of this species equates with many species of snapper & grouper also found in the Gulf of Mexico.

Summer shark fishing action at the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers often matches the fish most visitors from outside of Florida (or non-coastal Florida residents) are seeking during their visit.  By far – most anglers new to fishing the marine environment want to catch their first shark of any available species – especially those with younger children who can handle on their own light freshwater gear.  The bite described in the previous sentence has been fantastic this season, with blacktip, sharpnose and bonnethead sharks providing the action…  However, every summer in the Tampa Bay Estuary sees some monstrous toothy-critters and this season is no different…  The past 7 days have seen bull, lemon, nurse and hammerhead sharks exceeding 7 feet in length at both fishing piers.  Serious conventional tackle, fighting belts and a reliable crew to assist in the battle are the best options to land these monsters.  Deploying a cownose ray, ladyfish, jack or bonito on the outgoing tide using a ballon and the tidal flow is the most common method.  In addition, it is easiest to fight a monster shark from the piers on an outgoing tide because this makes it easier for the angler to keep the fish from going underneath the pier itself.  Almost all monster sharks caught at the piers nowadays are released to fight another day by anglers who are simply happy with a picture of their catch and all the tales they will tell…

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